Russia insists Iran join Syria peace conference

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Russia said on Tuesday that it was imperative for Iran to join a proposed peace conference on Syria despite reservations from some Western nations such as France.

“The issue of Iran is key for us,” Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying while on a visit to Paris. “Iran without question is one of the most important nations.”

Russia has argued that both Iran – a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad – and rebel ally Saudi Arabia should take part in the negotiations as part of a new push for peace agreed by Moscow and Washington earlier this month.

France has already rejected the idea of Iran taking part while the United States has responded to Moscow’s proposal with skepticism.

The proposed conference to try to end two years of conflict in Syria could take place over the weekend of June 15-16 in Geneva, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Russia and Iran are seen as Assad’s most important allies and key suppliers of weapons used by the regime’s forces.

Lavrov said that he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed in Paris on Monday that more “clarity” was needed about who could take part in the proposed negotiations before a date for them could be set.

“We must get clarity about the participants,” said Lavrov. “And this concerns not only the Syrians that will represent the various levels of society, but also the foreign players.”

Russian officials had earlier Tuesday denied that a specific date for the conference was already being decided.

Various media reports have suggested that the talks might begin in the week starting June 10.

In the same time, Lavrov said on Tuesday that actions by Western countries are undermining the peace conference on Syria.

“A whole range of actions that have been undertaken, not without the participation and not without the support of our Western partners including the United States and France ... are serving to undermine the idea of calling a conference,” Russian news agencies quoted him as saying.

He gave few details but referred to a U.N. General Assembly which passed what he called a “unilateral and arrogant” resolution this month that praised the Syrian opposition and condemned President Assad’s forces.

The idea for the conference was hatched at a meeting between Kerry and Lavrov earlier this month. The Russian foreign secretary said on Monday that holding the meeting would be a “tall order” but he saw some chance of success.

Diplomats said that details of how the conference would be organized had yet to be agreed, and there was still no firm agreement on the date.

But several diplomatic sources said that holding it on the weekend of June 15-16 would allow Kerry and Lavrov to launch the process before handing over the most difficult questions to the U.S. and Russian presidents, who will be meeting at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on June 17-18.

If top political leaders can unite behind a single set of guidelines, or “road map” for Syria’s transition, officials attending the conference could then set about haggling over the detailed plans for elements of a peace plan, such as rules for a ceasefire and a political transition.

If confirmed, the conference would take place almost a year after a Geneva meeting that agreed on the need for a political transition and establishment of a transitional governing body.

Since the Geneva Communique on June 30, 2012, the fighting has escalated and the humanitarian crisis has become far worse, with more than 80,000 people killed and 1.5 million Syrians driven abroad as refugees.

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